by JIM WELLS
Stancato didn’t say whether those lines are his own or borrowed from Canterbury’s 2011 quarter horse training champion, Bob Johnson, who is, in fact, from Lemmon.
“Bob’s one of the wittier people I know,” said Canterbury’s stall superintendent. “Anytime you have something to say to him, he’ll come right back with something that will crack you up.”
Johnson, incidentally, was reared about 20 miles from Lemmon on a ranch he still calls home that has been in the family since the late 1800s, land homesteaded by his grandfather, Oscar Johnson.”I like it there. It’s quiet,” Johnson said. “It’s a place to call home, and it really is home.”
Johnson didn’t get home much this summer. “A couple of times.” And he isn’t apt to get there much for the next few months, either.
Thursday morning, for instance, Johnson made his remarks by cell phone from Billings, Mont., where he was galloping horses in anticipation of the upcoming races this weekend, a $40,000 Futurity and $30,000 Derby for Paints and Appaloosas.
“I’ve always liked Paints,” Johnson’s caller told him. “Trouble is they’ve bred most of the paint out ouf them,” Johnson responded. “A lot of these horses now are solid color but they are Paints.”
Johnson brought some horses to Canterbury Downs in 1986 for the track’s 10-day quarter horse meet that year. He came back again, as he recalls, in 1989 and has been stabling horses in Shakopee most summers since.
Johnson won the 1,000th quarter horse race of his career at Canterbury Park. “There are only a handful, maybe 25 (quarter horse) trainers in the country who have done that,” said racing secretary Doug Schoepf. “Bob’s a hard worker. Last year he had horses here and Denver and was hauling to Prairie (Meadows) plus Billings. Wherever they have a futurity or derby,” he’ll show up.”
Johnson won the training title, his first at Canterbury, by two wins over Brent Clay and Ed Ross Hardy, who was inducted into the track’s Hall of Fame this summer after winning nine consecutive titles.
“To me, the guy should be in the Hall of Fame,” said quarter horse racing secretary Josh Van Oort. “He won his 1,000th race at Canterbury two years ago, the 25th guy to win that many. He always has a good stable, helps us fill races and is always positive in any situation.”
Van Oort says a few more Bob Johnsons on the grounds would improve matters even more. “They don’t get any better than Bobby. They really don’t.”
Schoepf once rode for Bob’s dad, John G. Johnson. “We go back to the 1960s,” Schoepf said.
So, it was a special moment this summer when Bob Johnson saddled a horse for John Johnson that won the Minnesota Stallion Futurity at Canterbury.
“That was pretty cool,” Bob said. “Dad just turned 80 in July.”
Johnson won the 2011 Canterbury training title but he had already earned the respect of other horsemen after nearly four decades of hauling horses, thoroughbreds included, from track to track, always maintaining a good stable.
“He’s someone young trainers can look up to and respect and older ones still respect,” Van Oort said. “I wish we had 10 more like him.”
Johnson’s life changed last February when he married a woman from Phoenix. Clearly, it would take a horsewoman to understand and tolerate his life and that pretty much describes his new bride,Shilo.
She was on the backside at Canterbury last year. While Bob would truck some horses to Billings, she hauled others to Prairie Meadows. She sometimes had horses racing at Canterbury during the day and some at Prairie the same night.
Johnson’s life changed and so did his schedule. He used to lay up at the ranch from October to March. Not this year. He intends to take seven or eight thoroughbreds and a similar number of quarter horses to Phoenix.
“I used to go home for the winter. That sounds kind of backward now, doesn’t it,” he said.
His dad and brother, Gary, will have to handle the ranch, the cows and horses on their own this time.
For anyone requiring more precise geography, Lemmon is on the North Dakota-South Dakota border, about 80 miles from Montana. “About 350 miles from Billings,” Johnson said.
What doesn’t need additional description is this Johnson anecdote concerning the view of others about his neck of the woods:
A fellow once told him: “You must be from here, because I don’t know anybody who’d move here.”
WELLINGTON WANTS THE PARKING SPOT
Tom Wellington was tied with Tad Leggett for the riding lead with one race left in the quarter horse meet three or four years ago in Shakopee.
When Wellington’s horse won the final race, he heard the announcement: “Tom Wellington is the Canterbury riding champ.”
“They took my number down and Tad won the race and the title,” Wellington recalled.
That’s been a small burr under his saddle since.
Funny how things work out sometimes.
Wellington left Canterbury with more than three weeks left in the meet this summer. He had 12 wins at the time, two more than Jennifer Schmidt.
“I really didn’t expect 12 wins to hold up,” he said Thursday.
It was good enough this time for Wellington to claim the title by one.
“I just might come up there again, now that I have that parking spot (given to the previous year’s champions directly in front of the Canterbury entrance).”
Wellington has won several titles at Prairie Meadows and others in Kansas, too, but this was his first in Shakopee.
And he expects the royal treatment regardless of his plans.
“Even if I don’t come back there next year, I want that parking spot,” he said. “I’ll need it when I come to visit.”
Kenny Laymon tied for fourth in the trainer standings with Amber Blair and Carl Clevenger. They each had seven wins for the meet.
Which was enough for Laymon and his wife, Regina, the names behind JK Running Horses LLC, to win the owners title in their first year at Canterbury.
“We’ve sent horses up here before but this is the first time we stabled here,” Laymon said. “We plan on coming back again next year.”
Laymon attributes his successful meet to luck and some pretty nice horses. “We’ve sent some pretty good ones up there in the past, but this summer I just decided to do it myself,” he said.
Turned out just fine at that.